Review: The Fox

The Fox
at G Gallery, Toronto
14 July – 20 August 2011
Artists: Oskar Hüber (Germany), Yam Lau (Canada), Sophie Nys (Belgium) and Kevin Rodgers (Canada). Organized by Kevin Rodgers

“The Fox” Installation view at G Gallery, Toronto 2011.

In 1924 began a romantic liaison between 35-year-old husband, father and Marburg University philosophy teacher Martin Heidegger, and Hannah Arendt, his 18 year-old student. By 1933, Heidegger had joined the Nazi Party and Arendt, a jew, fled to France to escape religious persecution. Utilizing these accounts and more as premise, G Gallery in Toronto exhibited last month the work of four artists. Oskar Hüber, Yam Lau, Sophie Nys and Kevin Rodgers sparsely filled the brightly lit white space of G Gallery with emblematic objects, videos and installation works.

Kevin Rodgers “Nevertheless” (2011) Courtesy of the artist

Oskar Hüber “Gute Nacht!” (2011) Courtesy of the artist

Rodgers’ “Nevertheless” (2011) rightly introduces the show for anyone unfamiliar with either thinker. Taped and tacked to the wall, a grey paper poster displays a white text amidst cracks, divulging its recent unfolding. The text quotes Arendt’s infamous parable, liking Heidegger to a fox whom congratulates his cleverness in avoiding a hunter’s traps, only by containing himself in another trap of his own making, from which he finds enough comfort to regard as a home. The proposition of the trap unseen by its captive is echoed in several other pieces, woven together with key Heideggerian concepts such as the relevance of language in understanding experience. The work by Hüber entitled “Gute Nacht!” (2011) projects a slowly rotating black and white planet onto a screen neatly encased at the bottom of a black, velvet lined cardboard box. The ambush is now suggested at a global scale, its entire population unwittingly at the mercy of a mere open flap cardboard box.

Kevin Rodgers “To Be More Precise” (2011) Courtesy of the artist

Further along, at the far end of the gallery space, a large-scale photographic print hangs not in front of the expected slab of white dry-wall, but before a window secured with anti-theft iron bars. “To Be More Precise” (2011), another work by Rodgers this way allows in-situ strategies to filter through, the picture of a man deep in thought suddenly becomes imprisoned as the light shines from the window frame onto the back of the print, outlining the parallel bars beneath the image. A more complex storyline emanates from Yam Lau’s “A-fold-in-two, in memory of Gordon Lebredt” (2011). His two large white metallic squares placed ceiling-high at opposite ends of the gallery could just as well constitute a pair of monolithic, extra-terrestrial contraptions or inspire a Heideggerian twist to Lebredt’s collection of drawn-up yet unfinished works.

Yam Lau “A-fold-in-two, in memory of Gordon Lebredt” (2011) Courtesy of the artist

Instead of devising yet more snares, the work of Sophie Nys closely parallels the sequence of emotional and intellectual flurry of Arendt and Heidegger’s affair. “Artefact-Todtnauberg” (2009) and “Die Kunst und der Raum “(2009) both use artifacts to unearth Heidegger as an historical figure. The former puts forth a wall-mounted toilet-seat-shaped piece of wood, supposedly found near Heidegger’s house in the Black Forest. Hanging from a chain attached to the ceiling, the latter offers a recording of the philosopher’s lecture by the same name. These anecdotal objects illustrate the career of a successful philosopher who chose, rather than becoming a public intellectual as Arendt, to live a secluded life of rigorous thought, deep in the Black Forest. In her third, truly contrasting piece, Nys’ video “Die Hütte” (2007) pans through a scenic German countryside, devoid of humans or architecture save for a still shot of Heidegger and his home. A quiet Schubert opera underscores the video in addition to the emphatic voice-over relentlessly scolding Heidegger as a stain on German philosophical history.

Sophie Nys “Die Hütte” (2007) and “Artefact-Todtnauberg” (2009) Courtesy of the artist and Galeria Greta Meert

The Fox effectively places an artistic conundrum on the emotional and intellectual encounters between a Jewish political theorist and an unrepentant former Nazi, by visually re-articulating the inherent contradictions between lived experience and philosophical thought. Heidegger refused to acknowledge any wrongdoings for his involvement with National Socialists, simply in denying political concerns to access his writings. Perhaps likewise, in granting so much space between the works in this exhibition, each tends towards an isolated narrative, neither overlapping nor connecting with that of the others. But after a moment their arrangement sinks in, “Die Kunst und der Raum“ twirls gently into view from the vista of “Nevertheless”. Subtly expressing these disjunctions, as witnessed from Arendt’s determination to understand and forgive her former lover confined in denial, it is ultimately the gaps and intervals between the artworks which mark the most tension, drawing the viewer as much into examination, as into reflection.

Text by Yaniya Lee

“The Fox” Installation view at G Gallery, Toronto 2011.

G Gallery
234 Queen Street East,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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